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Rep. Conyers draws heat for coal comments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A leading House Democrat drew harsh responses Wednesday from the United Mine Workers and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., after he criticized the coal industry and called for a program to create alternative jobs in West Virginia.

UMW President Cecil Roberts and Manchin issued separate news releases after a news report quoted remarks longtime Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., gave during a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conference.

Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, noted the ongoing public relations campaign by the coal industry aimed at protecting coal's role in the nation's energy supply and, in some cases, attacking new rules on strip-mining and air pollution.

"There's a big campaign going on about how you clean coal and we want to examine that as critically and fairly as we can, but here's the problem: I've been to West Virginia, and that's about all they've got there," Conyers said, according to a story distributed by the news service Greenwire.

The Obama administration has been cracking down on the issuance of new permits for mountaintop removal operations, citing a growing body of science about the practice's negative impacts on the environment and public health. EPA also has moved to push further restrictions on air pollution from coal-fired power plants, citing their contribution to thousands of premature deaths and illnesses.

And EPA also is working on rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. American Electric Power recently stopped work on a major West Virginia project aimed at controlling such emissions, citing the failure of Congress to pass legislation to require such cuts.

The UMW and Manchin both appeared to seize on Greenwire's paraphrase reporting that Conyers "called for the industry to be shut down in the state and for those who rely on coal jobs there to find alternative employment."

Greenwire also reported that Conyers said, the history of coal mining in West Virginia "is one of the sorriest reports you'll ever see."

"We've got to work out a situation in one state of the union, there may be others, in which we come up with alternative ways of creating full employment without just putting everybody out of work," Conyers said.

Roberts said the UMW was "extremely disappointed" when he read Conyers' statements.

"It's mystifying how someone who has historically been on the side of American working people can take such a narrow and short-sighted approach regarding the jobs of millions of American workers," Roberts said." I urge Rep. Conyers to take another look at the facts and spend some time talking with the UMWA and other organizations representing the people he would throw out of work so that he can gain a greater understanding of the true facts on this issue."

Manchin invited Conyers to meet with him to discuss coal-mining issues in more detail.

"Coal is a vital resource today and will be long into the future," Manchin said. "I believe that we must use coal better and in cleaner ways, and the technology already exists to accomplish this important goal."

Conyers' comments had not yet been widely covered in the media, but Greenwire is widely read among Washington policymakers, lobbyists and interest groups. Some Greenwire stories appear, after a delay, for free on the website of The New York Times.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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